Are thieves using Google Maps to plot the theft of your caravan?

The launch of Google Maps has been of great benefit for caravanners; there is no more arriving at a campsite only to find that the roads the sat nav takes you down are too small for the unit, as you can now plot and view the route online before you even leave the house. And indeed, a man was arrested after being spotted on Google Maps stealing a caravan, so there is no doubt that the tool has proven very useful. However, there can be downsides to having so much information available and could thieves be using Google Maps to plot the theft of your caravan? Tim Booth, of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), believes this is the case.

He told Club Care, “I have been plotting the thefts for some time and you will find that often the 'repeat' theft locations are very much visible on Google Maps; in fact should you want to take a look, you can almost work out what models are actually parked up there.”

It is a well known fact that many caravans are actually stolen to order rather than being opportunist thefts, so Google Maps could in fact be an advert for your caravan. Just as you may be using Google Maps to plan the best route into your chosen campsite, a thief can use it to plot the best way into an unsecured storage location.

Tim continues, “Google Maps allows you to see not only the obvious route into these areas – normally an informal farm storage area – and around the storage site itself, but also a track to the storage area so that you could actually 'come in via the back door'.”

A recent caravan theft that was reported by a Club Care Insurance customer is a great example of a theft that was very easy to plan using Google Maps.

An aerial view of the storage location revealed that there are a number of caravans stored there, with an access point in the top right of the compound:

Google Maps Post Polaroid 1

A closer look at the access point reveals this:

Google Maps Post Polaroid 2

It is clear from this image that the gate into the storage area hasn’t been closed for some time due to the trees growing over it. This short search will reveal to a thief that the only barrier to them now is the security devices fitted to the caravan.

Not only this, but once they have discovered a location with easy access it is very likely that they will target it again.

Unsecure storage locations could invalidate your insurance

Having your caravan in an unsecure storage area could impact your insurance too. In most policies there is a clause that states your caravan must have certain security measures in place to prevent theft, if Google Maps demonstrates that this isn’t the case and an insurer then makes a visit and discovers that the caravan wasn’t sufficiently protected then your claim could be invalidated.

So what should you do?

Club Care’s advice is to take a few minutes now and look at your storage location on Google Maps. If you see that your caravan is behind an unlocked gate, or clearly has no security devices then do something to change this. You can’t change what view thieves have of your caravan on Google Maps, but you can make sure that they find something a lot harder to steal when they do arrive.

If you are not satisfied that the location is offering sufficient protection from caravan theft then we would recommend that the caravan is moved to a secure site – such as a CaSSOA site.

What if you are a victim of caravan theft?

If your caravan is stolen then firstly make sure that you contact the police, giving them all the information you can including:

  • The make and model of your caravan
  • When and where it was last seen
  • Any distinguishing features that could help you get it back

The police will then give you a crime number, which you can give to your insurance company as part of your claim.

In many cases, it isn’t just the caravan that you want returned, but the personal belongings inside. To help recover stolen caravans the Caravan Theft Alerts system was launched to allow the caravanning community to work together to find stolen caravans and return them to their rightful owners. If your caravan is stolen you can list it on www.caravantheftalerts.co.uk, which will alert other caravanners via widgets placed on several relevant websites and in social media postings so they will then be able to look out for it. Any possible sightings are reported through the website and sent to the police to follow them up.